How telecoms can help power the SMB cloud revolution

The software revolution sparked by mobile apps and marketplaces is now spreading to business users, particularly small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Developers are creating an increasing number of sophisticated, cloud-based business applications that can be used to manage everything from email marketing and web conferencing, to project management and security.

The software revolution sparked by mobile apps and marketplaces is now spreading to business users, particularly small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Developers are creating an increasing number of sophisticated, cloud-based business applications that can be used to manage everything from email marketing and web conferencing, to project management and security.

Mobile apps have taken the consumer world by storm. For proof, consider these staggering numbers: More than 31 billion apps were downloaded in 2011—that’s over four apps for every man, woman and child on the planet—and analysts predict that the worldwide market for consumer mobile apps will be worth $52 billion by 2016.[1]

Why has there been such a boom in the mobile apps industry? Much of the growth can be traced back to the creation of application marketplaces. These appealing, easy-to-use stores, such as the Android Market and Apple’s App Store, have revolutionized the way consumers discover and purchase software in the cloud.

Marketplaces for business applications are also changing the way SMBs discover and purchase software. For small business owners, the appeal of an online, one-stop shop for business apps is clear. Short on time and with limited IT resources, SMBs are hungry for a quick, hassle-free way to find and try applications that can help them streamline and manage their operations more effectively.

Aside from making apps easier to find and buy, marketplaces also serve as incubators for innovation, a fact that has important implications for SMBs. As developers compete with each other to create the next must-have application, the quality of these apps has steadily improved. Many cloud-based business applications now offer better features than their on-premise counterparts.

When it comes to which business apps are best, however, SMBs are looking for guidance. This presents telecoms with a prime opportunity to become a trusted cloud partner and build stronger relationships with their SMB customers. After all, SMBs already turn to telecom providers for essential business services, such as Internet, phone and mobile services; giving these customers access to enterprise-class business apps is the next logical step in moving up the value chain.

For telecom companies, meeting SMB demand for cloud applications goes beyond building customer loyalty—it’s also smart business. If SMBs aren’t already using cloud-based services, they will be soon enough. In fact, 35% of SMBs will use cloud-based software this year, a 150% increase from 2009.[2]

Those percentages are also translating into increased revenue. While it’s too soon to tell if the market for business apps will rival mobile apps, the value of the SMB cloud market will exceed $13 billion by 2014.[3] As more SMB users continue to adopt more cloud-based business software and services, the overall value of the market has nowhere to go but up.

One of the most effective ways that telecom companies can empower their SMB customers—not to mention one of the fastest—is by deploying a cloud-based marketplace for business apps. The idea of creating and launching an application marketplace may seem formidable, especially for companies that are used to more traditional service delivery. However, there are several best practices you can follow to help ensure that your business app marketplace is a success:

Build a compelling catalogue of apps. Finding the right mix of business apps to offer your SMB customers is critical. Focus on applications that fit with your brand and core services. Providing customers with innovative, relevant apps will keep them coming back for more, and boost your reputation as a leader in the cloud space.

Also consider bundling applications together to increase their appeal to customers. For example, bundling HR, accounting and project management apps together will not only make a customer more likely to buy, but also offer an example of how SMBs can use a variety of applications to manage any number of functions across their companies.  

When thinking about your catalogue, it’s also important to consider the relationships you will need to build with application developers. Reaching out to developers and working with them proactively is one of the best ways to ensure that your marketplace continues to offer the highest-caliber business apps.

Support your customers. As with any business, companies that make customer service a top priority tend to thrive. The same is true for you and your business app marketplace.

Your application marketplace will need dedicated support that is able to respond to questions, concerns and problems on topics ranging from forgotten passwords, to software deployment, to billing. The way that you provide support is also critical. Customers expect quick answers to their questions, so your ability to provide fast, smart customer service should be a key feature of your marketplace strategy.

Focus on the user experience. Mobile app stores have set sky-high expectations for the way marketplaces should look and feel. This means that your business marketplace not only has to offer relevant apps, but also has to provide an appealing, intuitive interface that makes finding and purchasing apps easy.

Customers will also expect your business application marketplace to have the latest features that many mobile app stores offer, including the ability to review apps and see lists that showcase “featured” or “most popular” apps. On the back end, your marketplace needs to offer single sign-on functionality, so customers can use one username and password to access all of their apps, as well as unified billing and management.

Strong security is also essential to any successful application marketplace. Many SMBs are wary about relying on cloud-based applications to handle their sensitive data. This is why addressing security concerns head on is crucial. Ensuring that your marketplace complies with industry-standard data protection measures is an obvious first step. Informing your customers that your marketplace is safe is also key; a little education can go a long way in helping SMBs understand that your marketplace is secure.

All of these features and more are essential to creating a business app store that customers will want to use.

In Europe, Deutsche Telekom has already embraced the opportunity to enter the cloud services space by launching its Business Marketplace app store. Hosted on Deutsche Telekom’s secure local infrastructure, the Business Marketplace offers a collection of highly relevant apps localized for German SMB customers.

The Business Marketplace exemplifies why launching an application marketplace is a smart strategy for telecom companies. In addition to creating a new revenue stream and building customer loyalty, the Business Marketplace enables Deutsche Telekom to position itself as a leader in the cloud space; its early-to-market strategy gives the company a clear advantage over its competitors.

Before launch, Deutsche Telekom stocked its marketplace with a handpicked suite of apps to boost the appeal of its app store. Perhaps more importantly, Deutsche Telekom is now working closely with local developers on an on-going basis to create new, innovative apps to keep its customers ahead of their competition.

Deutsche Telekom also made the user experience a top priority. Even though the Business Marketplace offers numerous apps across a range of areas—accounting, CRM, human resources, and more—Deutsche Telekom’s SMB customers only need to worry about one invoice, and can access any of their apps from one portal using a single username and password. Thanks to a sophisticated review engine, SMB customers can also try apps and recommend which ones they like best, setting the stage for a flourishing user community.

And Deutsche Telekom isn’t the only telecommunications company to introduce a successful business app marketplace. Two Canadian companies—Bell Canada and SaskTel—have created successful online marketplaces that offer business applications to SMB customers across Canada.

In the course of a few weeks, these telecoms were able to launch cloud-based marketplaces that are raising the bar for business app stores worldwide. Following the best practices outlined above were a critical part of making that happen, and they can help any telecom company develop its own thriving cloud service marketplace.

The stage has been set and cloud-based business applications are now poised to take the SMB world by storm. Will you be ready? 

[1]Mobile apps market to hit $52 billion by 2016,” CommsMEA, February 9, 2012

[2] Small Business and the Cloud (Microsoft infographic)

[3] Gartner (stat from B+G)